Management ploys ruffle feathers of UK workers

Published: 7 July 2017 at 10:30

Person in a gorilla suit addressing workers in an office meeting room.

New research suggests guru techniques polarise opinion among employees

Unusual ploys from international management gurus – such as bosses dressing up as animals during training sessions to reflect qualities such as teamwork and introduce humour – turn off UK workers, according to research published in the journal Management Learning.

Researchers from Anglia Ruskin University and Lancaster University observed a culture change programme at a company in the south of England where managers followed ideas from bestselling book Gung Ho! by American “consultant gurus” Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles.

The initiative involved sessions where trainers dressed in costumes to reflect the qualities of animals such as geese, beavers and squirrels. The idea is to use humour to help people work in teams, take responsibility and understand the importance of their employment.

Employees attending the sessions were then interviewed and asked about the culture change programme. While some welcomed the initiative, others found it “patronising” and “hard to take seriously”.

Researchers concluded that the concept of wearing costumes could actually hinder the messages that the gurus are attempting to get across.

Co-author of the study, Dr Stephanie Russell of Anglia Ruskin University, said: 

“The gurus’ intention was that an employee seeing their line manager dressed up as an animal would make them smile and engage with that person, helping with the process of getting their ideas across. 

“However, our research found that this does not translate well into UK culture and many employees were extremely cynical of the exercise. While some laughed along with the session in a positive way, others distanced themselves and were reluctant to take part. 

“In addition, they found it harder to take the managers seriously and this led to the messages not getting across.”

Professor Darren McCabe of Lancaster University said: 

“Management appear to have learned a lesson as the dressing up has now been abandoned in the UK arm of the company and it suggests that managers need to be cautious when implementing new management ideas as they can have unintended consequences.”